Labour Party Conference 2011: Hazel Blears Says Immigration Has Gone Too Far
Immigration is "too high" and people are right to be angry about EU migrants using Britain's benefits system, according to a former cabinet minister
Speaking during a Dods fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Liverpool, Hazel Blears told audience members that people had a right to be angry about EU migrants abusing the benefits system.
"In terms of access to benefits, if you get child benefit in this country, you get it," she said. "In Poland it's totally means tested and it's much much less than us. So if we go and work in Poland and don't take our kids with us, we don't get benefits. The Polish people come here, they will get the benefits. So it's things like that that create a real sense of grievance, and justifiably so."
The Salford MP said she agreed with comments made during a previous fringe by a Demos worker who suggested that immigration should be paused and that Turkey should not become part of the European Union.
"He said that for a lot of people in our communities immigration was too high, too fast.
"Their communities changed before their eyes, there was a stress on public service and I actually agree with him and I [have] agreed with him for many years on that. And when I was a communities secretary, I brought in policies that tried to make sure the stress on the NHS, on education, on the numbers of people that we'd got in our primary school classes - kids were not getting the one-to-one education they needed, to try and address some of that...
"We can't just dance around it and say it doesn't matter. that then gets to the heart of why we don't reconnect with people. If you just say to them 'you're not right, you're wrong, you've got it wrong', this is how they feel."
She warned Labour would be "irrelevant" if it did not engage with voters' on immigration, adding:
"People do feel - and it's not just the economy, it is the economy, and it's about a drive down to the bottom of the labour market, and the fact that people's wages were undermined. But it is cultural as well. And you can't not say it. It's almost like we're fighting to say it."
"I think we've got this sense that we've got this great melting pot which is London and some of our big cities. But that isn't necessarily reflected in other communities. We cannot have a party - and I've banged on about this for a long time - that is simply London centric and looks through the prism of a very multicultural community, and also a very middle class community."
Shadow justice minister Chris Bryant, appearing alongside Blears, added that Labour had failed the white working class when they were in power but chastised Blears for going "far too far".
"In terms of the white working class people who wanted to work, we didn't do enough to make their work environment a more secure place, we made it feel more insecure and to that degree yes of course that was a failure."
Labour leader Ed Miliband admitted earlier today that Labour had "got it wrong" on immigration.